After a Kardiac-like performance last week against the Dolphins, the Browns now welcome the Tennessee Titans to the not-so-friendly confines of Cleveland Stadium. It’ll be the Titans first trip to Cleveland since 2005, a game in which the Browns won, 20-14. The Browns lead the overall series against the Titans/Oilers, 33-27, including a 15-14 advantage at home.
The Browns have also won 3 of the last 4 against the Titans. However, the two teams last met in 2008 in Tennessee. The game resulted in a 28-9 victory for the Titans.
Sunday’s match-up could very well be a defensive struggle, though the Browns will be looking to keep Titans running back, Chris Johnson, from having his first big game of 2011. So far on the season, Johnson leads a rushing attack that ranks dead last in the NFL with just 51.2 yards per game. The Browns defense ranks 29th against the run, giving-up 128.7 yards per game.
With a struggling rushing attack, the Titans have leaned heavily on Matt Hasselbeck and the passing game – an area the Browns defense ranks among the league’s best (3rd, 187.3 passing yards per game). The Titans’ offense received a serious blow last Sunday when star receiver Kenny Britt was lost for the season when he tore his ACL. So far, Britt ranks 5th in total receiving yards.
Britt’s injury likely means that Nate Washington will now be the team’s number one receiver, which means he’ll be matched-up against one of the league’s top corners in Cleveland’s Joe Haden. Haden is a critical part to the Browns secondary, and has shut-down the likes of Reggie Wayne and Brandon Marshall. Even with Sheldon Brown questionable for Sunday’s game, the Browns secondary should remain strong with either Buster Skrine or Dimitri Patterson likely to replace Brown as a starter.
If the Browns hope to move to 3-1 on the season, Colt McCoy and the rest of the Cleveland offense needs to get off to a hot start. McCoy struggled until the last drive of the game against the Dolphins, though he was as close to perfect as you can get as a QB, throwing to Mohammed Massaquoi for the game winning score. Cleveland’s defense has kept them in all three games so far this season. It’s about time the offense steps-it up and puts some points on the scoreboard.
Keys To Victory – Offense
Sustain Drives Early on Offense
– Whether it’s in beginning of the game, or the end of the 1st Qtr, the Browns offense can not afford to fall behind the way they did last week against Miami. The Titans have arguably the best defense in the NFL – at least early on – and aren’t as likely to give-up a game winning drive. This game falls on McCoy’s shoulders, and Shurmur’s play-calling. Shurmur has to put McCoy in position to make plays, which means rolling the pocket more often than not. McCoy is having a lot of his throws batted down at the line of scrimmage, so it’s on the offensive line to give McCoy a throwing lane.
Offensive Line Needs To Remain Solid
– The Titans have a very good front seven on defense, so it’ll be-up to the Browns offensive line to provide McCoy the protection he needs. The apparent return of Tony Pashos at right tackle is good news for the Browns, though Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins have come along in Pashos’ place. Joe Thomas and Alex Mack are stars along the o-line for the Browns, and lead an offensive line that ranks 3rd in the NFL in sacks allowed at 3. If the line can provide protection up-front, it’ll help keep McCoy comfortable when staying in the pocket.
Get Greg Little The Ball
– Enough of the Brian Robiskie experiment at receiver, let the rookie on the field. Little was one of McCoy’s favorite targets on that final drive of the game against Miami, and proved that he certainly has the hands to be a go-to-guy for McCoy. Robiskie has registered exactly 0 receptions on the year, while Little has 8. It also wouldn’t hurt to get Mohammed Massaquoi the ball a little more often. All 8 of Massaquoi’s receptions have gone for a first down, including last week’s game-winning 14-yard TD reception.
Get Peyton Hillis AND Montario Hardesty More Involved
– Hillis’ no-show, due to illness, last week against Miami, could easily be viewed as a blessing in disguise for the Browns. Hardesty was able to answer questions about his knee being fully recovered. Head Coach, Pat Shurmur, himself said that Hardesty seemed further along than even he had originally thought. This is your typical Thunder (Hillis) & Lightning (Hardesty) scenario in the backfield. There’s a reason Holmgren and Heckert spent traded all those draft picks to get Hardesty, and last week may have only been a glimpse into the future. Hillis is a team guy, but he has to know that Hardesty earned his share of touches last week for future games, which may hurt Hillis’ contract negotiations with the team when all is said and done. At any rate, finding a way to get Hillis and Hardesty on the field at the same time could prove to be pivotal for the offense.
Keys To Victory – Defense
Jackson Needs to Continue Being a Leader
– MLB, D’Qwell Jackson, was just named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for September, and there’s a reason why. Jackson’s early season stats are impressive, with 30 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery, and he should continue to blossom playing in the 4-3. You have to think that with OLB, Chris Gocong, getting a 3-year, 16 MIL extension, if Jackson can remain healthy, he could be next in line. Playing for a contract could be motivation for Jackson, and could be the key to a top ten defense in Cleveland.
– Rookie DT, Phil Taylor, is tied for first place in the NFL among tackles for a DT with 18, and also has a sack to his credit. Taylor has been a huge real for the defenses’ success early in the season, and is a huge reason why Ahtyba Rubin has been successful as an individual. Jackson also benefits from Taylor, by taking on defenders so Jackson can make tackles. If the Browns hope to remain a top ten defense, Taylor has to continue to play well.
Find a Way to Stop The Run
– Though Chris Johnson has been held in check so far this season, doesn’t mean the Browns will do the same. Cleveland ranks near the bottom of the NFL in terms of rushing yards allowed, and Johnson is primed for a huge game. This game has the potential to finally set Johnson off, or it could very well be a feather in the cap for Browns’ DC, Dick Jauron, moving forward. The Browns can ill-afford to let Johnson have his first break-out game of the year, especially if the offense struggles like it has been.
Joe Haden vs. Nate Washington
– A match-up between Kenny Britt and Haden would’ve been better, but Washington has made a name for himself so far this year as a number two. Haden has shut-down the likes of Reggie Wayne and Brandon Marshall, and is a fluke-play away from being unscored upon on the season. Washington has 21 receptions for 200+ yards this season, but is facing Haden, who is tied for 1st in the league in passes defended (6), including 5 in week one against Cincinnati. Haden will, once again, have to play on a high-level if he wants to shut-down Hasselbeck’s new number one receiver.
Other Bones to Chew-On
– The Browns have 14 games in a row against the Titans/Oilers when scoring 25+ points. Cleveland is averaging 20.3 PPG so far on the season.
– The Browns are looking to start 3-1 for the first time since 2001.
– Cleveland’s Defense ranks second in the NFL in totals sacks (11), one behind Philadelphia.
– Cleveland’s D also has allowed only 1 rushing touchdown on the season.
– Cleveland’s third punter of the year, Brad Maynard, now ranks second in NFL history with 410 punts down inside the 20.
– Kicker Phil Dawson ranks 9th in NFL career field goal percentage, at 83.4%.
– Joshua Cribbs is just 2 kick return scores away from Dante Hall and Eric Metcalf, with 10.